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2005 National Distance Hall of Fame Acceptance Speech

by Don Kardong

On July 9, 2005, Don Kardong, Greg Meyer and Bob Schul were inducted into the National Distance Running Hall of Fame in Utica, NY. The three inductees have impressive running credentials.

Greg Meyer was the last American to win the Boston Marathon (1983), and he holds the fastest American time at Boston (2:09.00). Demonstrating his versatility, he also set American road racing records in the 8K, 10K, 15K, 25K and 10 miles.

Bob Schul was the 1964 5,000 meters Olympic Champion and held one world record (the 2-mile record in a time of 8:26.4) and five American records.

Don Kardong is famous for finishing 4th in the 1976 Olympic marathon, missing the Bronze Medal by 3 seconds (in a PR of 2:11:16). He is a founding member and past president of the Association of Road Racing Athletes and past president of the Road Runner's Club of America (RRCA). He founded the Spokane Lilac Bloomsday 12K Run that today attracts 50,000 runners. He is well known as a Senior Writer for Runner's World.

I received Don's permission to post his acceptance speech on our club web site as inspiration for runners. Here is his speech.

I attended the Kid's Race [at the 2005 Utica Boilermaker] this morning. I realized how wired these humans are to enjoy running. In fact you can watch any mammal at play-bear cubs, dogs-and you see roots of our love of running. Many adults lose this connection to the joy of self-propulsion. But most of us in this room, or many of us in this room, did not. And we have stayed connected to that exhilaration, the kind that we saw this morning. And the kind we experienced as children when we first stood and then walked and really very soon after that started running.

I think many of us in this room also are sort of stunned to find ourselves still running and still loving to run after all these years. For me it is 40 years, over 40 years, and probably 100,000 miles. And it sometimes feels like a miracle, maybe a secret that not everyone has discovered.

When I was 15 years old, my first running coach, Larry Eason, introduced me to the joy of running-the joy of a lifetime. We cross-country runners were skinny, goofy, active teenagers. But he expected us to do things that most teenagers were not expected to do. Run up that hill. Find the steepest hill in the neighborhood and run up that. And do it again. And again. Run a mile fast. And when your breathing recovers, do it again. And again. Run to the far end of the lake. Farther than you can see. Maybe farther than you can even imagine. And back. And race in a pack like wolves. And don't let the other team smell fear, doubt, and especially not despair.

So we did all this, and we loved it so well we are still doing it. And that surprises us. Although, you have to admit, not quite so fast, not quite so far, and not quite so often. But on our best days, well into the second half of our lives, it feels so much like that first year, that we can-sometimes-feel like we time-traveled.

I remember at the end of my first year of running, I was a sophomore in high school, 1964, and a teacher at my school asked, "Do you think you will go to the Olympics someday?" I was the best runner in our school, but I was not even the fastest runner in our town, let alone in our state. And I sort of thought that his teacher had maybe been breathing too much chalk dust for too long. And, 11 years later, I stood on the starting line of the Olympic Marathon in Montreal. It was a miracle. It was a hard-earned miracle, but it was a miracle. And for this I give thanks to Coach Eason for getting me started.

And also to my college coach Marshall Clark. And to my post-collegiate mentor Tracy Walters, who would tell me, "That's THE best workout I have ever seen!" He had such a straight face when he said this. And he said it with such conviction, that I would tend to overlook the fact that he was very, very well known for being an unabashed exaggerator. And I think my teammates too, from high school through college and even today, they are training partners are the ones who entertain us, encourage us, and especially inspire us.

Speaking of inspiration, 1964 was the year I remember watching the footage of Billy Mills and Bob Schul who you saw before, and our own state of Washington Gerry Lindgren-people that set a standard that I try to match for the rest of my career.

Competition for me has been a big part, but just part of the story. But also much of the rest of it seems to be miraculous, now that I think back on it. In the summer of my Olympic race, I was invited to run the Peachtree Road Race-at the time, and still, one of the largest races in the country. Then it had about 2,000 runners. That was about 10 times as many as I had ever been in a race with. And the race came to the heart of downtown Atlanta. And it was exhilarating, and it was quirky, and it was damn hot too!

When I got back to Spokane, I said, "We should do this! This is a good idea!" And today we have an event, the Lilac Bloomsday Run, with 50,000 runners in it. Which, I look back, with more runners I think than there was probably in the whole world in 1964 when I started. And this incredibly, I think those of us who started back in those days, is amazing that this has become almost commonplace in our world.

And as our sport has grown over the last half century, we have races in every size and description and character. And most of us I think in this room have had enough running adventures to fill a book. I have run through urban canyons and the Grand Canyon. I have run in daylight, moonlight, starlight, and underground. To the top of Pikes Peak and to the top of the Empire State Building. During rainstorms, windstorms, dust storms, ice storms, volcanic ash storms. During an eclipse.

And I thank the variety of running magazines editors-Ed Ayres, Marc Bloom, Amby Burfoot-for allowing me to cover some truly wonderful and eccentric running adventures. Also to my wife Bridget for her support. Although I will say that her first reaction to hearing about almost any of my proposed running adventures has always been to say, "You want to do WHAT?"

I don't put on my running shoes much anymore with the intent of outrunning anyone. I run to keep up with my running partners. And together we share stories of our past glories, our foibles, our failures, and some elation. We still sweat, that's for sure. And we still finish our runs with that fundamental sense of satisfaction that really has no rational sense of explanation.

So I want to thank you for the honor of being inducted into the Hall of Fame, to the Utica community for their support of this event and of the Hall. I really appreciate being counted among people who first inspired me to run, who inspired me to continue, and who some of them still will occasionally run with me.

So on behalf of running mammals of every stripe, I thank you for celebrating an activity, a sport, that makes us all feel wonderfully alive even as our fur gets sort of gray. Thank you very much.